At least 88 people were killed and another 70 injured when mining gelatin stored in a house near a busy bus stand in Petlawad town of Jhabua district exploded Saturday morning.
The toll is likely to rise as some of the injured are in critical condition. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has ordered a judicial inquiry into the incident.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted he had discussed the post-blast situation with Chouhan who would be going to the spot Sunday.
Police initially thought that a cooking gas cylinder in a restaurant exploded and set off a second blast in an adjoining house where gelatin had been stored. But a top official of Indian Oil Corporation said the distributor had issued only a single cylinder to the restaurant and it was found intact in pictures taken after the explosion.
Police later said gelatin sticks kept in the house of one Rajendra Kumar Kaswa exploded, killing most of its occupants and those in the vicinity.
According to police, Kaswa had a licence to deal in explosives. What no official was was able to explain why were mining explosives stored in such a busy area of town.
Eyewitnesses said the force of the explosion was so high that people were tossed in the air.
DGP Surendra Singh said the police were treating the incident as an accident. Ruling out foul play, he dismissed rumours that the explosion was the handiwork of SIMI activists.
In New Delhi, Sharad Kumar, Director General of National Investigation Agency, said an NIA team had left for Jhabua to gather information on the explosion.
“We are awaiting a report from our team that has gone to the site, as it will give a clearer picture on the cause of the explosion,” another NIA official said.
Chief Medical and Health Officer Arun Sharma said post-mortem examination of 60 bodies had been conducted by afternoon. Late in the night, the government said 76 bodies had been identified. Most of the dead were men.
Additional SP Seema Alawa said the dead included employees of the restaurant, customers who were having breakfast there, occupants of the house and passersby.
The intensity of the explosion was so high that it left nearby houses and shops damaged. The injured were rushed to hospitals in Ratlam, Indore and Jhabua. Rescue work continued till late in the evening because authorities suspected some people could be buried under the debris. Home Minister Babulal Gaur flew to the spot along with Chief Secretary Anthony d’ Sa and other bureaucrats.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan expressed grief over the incident and announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 for those injured.
Local residents alleged that they had recently complained to the sub-divisional magistrate when they came to know that explosives had been stored in the residential locality but the administration did not act.
While police officers maintained that the house owner had a licence, they could not say whether he had permission to store them in his house.
A district administration officer said several detonators were found when JCB machines flattened the damaged structures.
Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Arun Yadav alleged that the trader to whom the gelatin sticks belonged was a member of the ruling BJP’s traders cell. A probe into the incident is underway.